Tack & Equipment

Horse riding saddle care 101: how to store it, take great care of it & when to replace it

Your saddle is an essential piece of equipment used to provide support, stability, and comfort to both you and your horse.

The saddle serves as a platform for you to sit on and helps distribute your weight evenly across your horse’s back, allowing for better balance and communication.

A broken or poorly fitting saddle can work like a broken telephone, muddying the messages you’re trying to give your horse, and at worst, it can cause damage to your horse.

The saddle also includes various components such as the stirrups, girth, and reins, which assist you in controlling and guiding your horse.

The saddle plays a crucial role in facilitating a successful and comfortable riding experience and having the right one is crucial.

How do you know when to replace your riding saddle?

Knowing when to replace your horse riding saddle is important to ensure the comfort and safety of both you and your horse.

Here are some indicators that it may be time to replace your saddle:

  1. Age and usage: Saddles, like any other piece of equipment, have a limited lifespan. The age and amount of usage can affect the condition of the saddle. If you’ve had your saddle for many years and it has been heavily used, it may be time for a replacement.
  2. Visible damage: Inspect your saddle regularly for signs of wear and tear. Look for cracks, frayed stitching, or any other structural damage that could compromise the saddle’s integrity. If you notice significant damage that cannot be repaired, it’s time to consider a new saddle.
  3. Poor fit: A well-fitting saddle is crucial for your horse’s comfort and your riding experience. If you’ve recently had your horse’s back checked and there are changes in their shape, such as weight gain or muscle development, your current saddle may no longer fit properly. Signs of an ill-fitting saddle include your horse displaying discomfort, behavioural issues while riding, or uneven sweat patterns under the saddle pad.
  4. Uneven or excessive wear: Take a close look at the saddle’s panels, flaps, and stirrup leathers. Uneven wear patterns or excessive wear in certain areas may indicate that the saddle is not distributing your weight evenly or that the materials are deteriorating.
  5. Changes in your riding discipline: If you have switched or are planning to switch riding disciplines, your current saddle may not be suitable for the new discipline’s specific requirements. For example, a jumping saddle doesn’t provide the necessary support for dressage or endurance riding. Assess whether your current saddle meets the needs of your new discipline.
  6. Personal comfort: Your own comfort as a rider is also essential. If you consistently experience discomfort or pain while riding, even after adjusting the saddle’s fit, it may be time to explore other saddle options that better suit your body and riding style. Take into account that men’s and women’s pelvises and bone structure are different, so depending on sex, height and body structure a saddle that fits someone else isn’t necessarily the perfect fit for you.
  7. Professional assessment: If you’re unsure about the condition or fit of your saddle, consult with a professional saddle fitter or an experienced equestrian. They can evaluate your saddle and provide expert advice on whether it needs replacing.

Thoroughly inspect your saddle while cleaning.

And clean it regularly – after every ride – to ensure it remains in good condition. If you notice any loose or popped stitching, it’s time to consider repairing or potentially replacing the saddle.

Depending on the repair costs provided by a saddler and the age and condition of your saddle, replacing it may be a more practical option than repairing it. You can explore the possibility of purchasing a new saddle, or if you’re working within a budget, consider buying a used one.

Replacing a saddle can be a significant investment, but it is crucial for the well-being and performance of both you and your horse.

A lot of saddle fitters will also have saddles for sale or swap as they see a lot of horses and saddles every day.

Taking proper care, carrying out regular maintenance, and storing your saddle appropriately will significantly extend its lifespan, allowing you to enjoy many years of safe and enjoyable riding with your horse.

What’s the right way to store a horse riding saddle?

Proper storage of a horse riding saddle is essential for maintaining its condition and prolonging its lifespan.

Clean and dry the saddle before storage.

Use a soft brush or cloth to remove any dirt, sweat, or debris. Ensure that the saddle is completely dry to prevent the growth of mould or mildew.

You’ll also want to wash your saddle regularly to ensure that sweat and oils don’t ruin the leather – this is particularly important when your horse sweats a lot, such as in hard work or during hot weather.

Make sure you clean well around all the crevices and folds, removing both dirt and soap.

Once you’ve washed your saddle, you’ll want to condition it to make sure the leather doesn’t dry out.

Having several saddle pads to swap out while you clean and air the dirty ones is always a good idea.

Condition the leather to keep it supple and prevent cracking.

When your saddle is drying, it presents an ideal opportunity to apply conditioner.

Before doing so, ensure that all soap residue has been thoroughly rinsed off.

Once the saddle is slightly damp but not completely dry, apply a thin coat of conditioner to both sides of the leather. After the saddle has dried completely, apply another light coat of conditioner.

Conditioners play a vital role in maintaining the suppleness of the leather and preventing it from becoming overly dry.

In arid climates, saddles may require more frequent conditioning.

With regular use, saddles tend to soften, but they can stiffen when left idle.

Therefore, if you anticipate storing your saddle for an extended period, it is advisable to periodically rub a light coat of conditioner over it.

If your saddle is entirely synthetic, you can simply hose it off (following the manufacturer’s instructions is always best).

If your saddle’s leather is excessively dry, you may want to consider additional treatment options such as Effax Lederbasalm or Neatsfoot oil.

You can warm either of these products and apply a thin coat.

In the case of a saddle that is extremely dirty or has been neglected over time, you can use a soft brush and luke warm water for cleaning it first, getting out all the entrenched dirt and dust.

When giving a saddle a thorough cleaning, it’s best to remove all the buckles and straps. Have a lot of clean, dry cloths on hand and make sure you have a clean, dry surface to store all the individual parts of your saddle once clean.

Pay close attention to cleaning the saddle in areas where sweat can accumulate, such as the curves near the buckles and trim.

This is also an opportune time to inspect the stitching and evaluate the condition of the leather.

When you need to oil your saddle.

When it comes to oiling a saddle, it is best to do it sparingly, taking into consideration the type of riding you engage in and the current condition of your saddle.

Avoid applying excessive amounts of oil, as it can seep out of the leather, stain your clothing, and saturate the leather excessively, making it “mushy.”

Over-oiled leather tends to stretch and weaken over time.

Refrain from oiling the undersides of the stirrup fenders, as the rough leather absorbs oil rapidly. Additionally, never oil rawhide horns, stirrups, or other rawhide components.

Generally, a light coat of oil two or three times a year is sufficient, unless your saddle gets soaked, such as when crossing a creek or during a downpour.

Water can deplete the natural oils in leather, making it an opportune time for an additional oiling.

Choosing the appropriate oil for your saddle often sparks debates and disagreements among equestrians. It’s advisable to follow the recommendations of the saddle maker.

Otherwise, opt for oils that are non-animal and non-vegetable-based. Both animal and vegetable oils can become rancid, potentially damaging the saddle’s stitching and attracting mice due to the unpleasant odor.

Traditionally, pure neatsfoot oil has been the go-to choice.

However, its usage is not universally recommended, considering its price and potential drawbacks.

Some manufacturers now offer neatsfoot oil “compounds,” but the added chemicals in these compounds can harm the saddle’s stitching.

There are other oils specifically formulated for saddles and tack available on the market. Before making a purchase, carefully inspect the ingredients.

Since leather is a natural material, avoid clogging its pores with waxes or causing damage to its natural fibres by using alcohol, mineral spirits, or any petrochemicals.

Invest in a high-quality saddle cover to protect your saddle from dust, sunlight, and potential scratches.

Choose a cover that fits the saddle properly and provides adequate protection.

Dust particles can accumulate on your saddle due to barn cleaning and other chores.

If left uncovered, the new layer of dirt can become ingrained in the seat and fenders when you sit in the saddle again.

Commercially-made saddle covers available in different styles and materials to suit your preferences.

Generally, there are two designs to choose from: those that can be thrown over the top of the saddle and those that fit snugly around it.

The close-fitting covers tuck under the edges and typically enclose the fenders and stirrups, providing superior protection for your saddle.

The kind of cover that you simply throw over the saddle offers less protection, but can be easier when you have several horses and a lot of tack.

Even if you have nothing else available, placing an old saddle blanket or a bedsheet over your saddle is better than leaving it uncovered.

However, it is crucial to avoid using anything plastic to wrap or store your saddle.

Leather is a natural material that requires proper ventilation.

If you enclose it in plastic, it won’t be able to breathe, and you may soon find your saddle covered in white mould.

Another concern when storing tack is the presence of rodents.

Mice have a tendency to chew on leather to sharpen their ever-growing teeth, which can lead to significant damage.

To address this issue, consider getting some barn cats.

These feline companions can help keep the rodent population under control and protect your valuable tack.

Cats can also provide company to stalled horses and are generally pleasant to have around.

However, it’s worth noting that some cats may be inclined to curl up on a comfortable saddle seat or sharpen their claws on it.

That’s where using a well-fitting saddle cover can help prevent this possibility and ensure the safety of your saddle.

Select a cool and dry storage location with stable temperature and humidity levels.

Temperature and humidity have everything to do with how your saddle ages.

If you don’t have the luxury of a heated barn, you might have heat just in the tack room, or an air conditioner.

Both can be a good investment to protect your expensive tack from extreme temperatures.

Humidity is particularly damaging to leather.

Moisture can cause leather deterioration and mould growth.

You can buy a dehumidifier or a small, inexpensive tub of dehumidifying agent to protect your tack. If you don’t ride during wet, cold months, you can store your saddle in the house – in that case, bring the stand as well.

In addition to caring for your saddle, it’ll look nice displayed in the house (plus you can stare at it longingly while waiting for better riding weather).

Avoid areas exposed to direct sunlight or prone to extreme temperature fluctuations, as they can damage the leather.

Avoid storing the saddle in damp or excessively humid environments such as basements or poorly ventilated rooms.

Place the saddle on a sturdy saddle rack or stand that supports its shape and prevents distortion.

Avoid storing your saddle in positions that can exert improper pressure on the tree or cause misshapen skirts.

Do not store it standing up on its fork, lying on its side, or hanging by the horn on a rope. When it’s not in use, keep your saddle on a saddle stand or saddle rack.

Most commercially made stands or wall racks are suitable for properly supporting a saddle while stored.

If you decide to build a saddle rack yourself, make sure it supports your saddle correctly.

Avoid using a single dowel or a two-by-four down the centre. The bars of the saddle should be supported in an “A” shape, resembling how it sits on a horse.

To determine the appropriate measurements for the saddle rack, place your saddle up on its fork on a piece of cardboard. Trace a line around the inside at the front of the saddle.

Use these measurements or create a template to check the “pitch” of the sides of the saddle rack that will support the bars.

Whether you purchase a ready-made rack or construct one at home, ensure that it is tall enough so that the stirrups do not touch the ground.

While on the stand, every part of your saddle (depending on your saddle the parts will vary) – stirrups, fenders, off billet, saddle strings – should hang straight down without touching the floor.

If you will not be using the saddle for an extended period, it is advisable to remove the cinch to prevent it from pulling up on the off-side.

Should you throw the cinch over the seat of the saddle when storing it?

No, it is not recommended to throw the cinch over the seat of the saddle when storing it.

Placing the cinch over the seat can lead to unnecessary pressure and potentially cause damage to the saddle.

Instead, it is best to remove the cinch and store it separately or in a designated cinch storage area. This helps to prevent any strain on the saddle and ensures its longevity.

What if I don’t want to remove the cinch for storage?

If you prefer not to remove the cinch for storage, there are a few things you can do to minimise any potential damage to the saddle:

  1. Loosen the cinch: Before storing the saddle, make sure to loosen the cinch significantly. This helps relieve any tension on the saddle and reduces the risk of distortion or pressure points.
  2. Position the cinch properly: Instead of throwing the cinch over the seat, position it in its regular placement as if it were on the horse. Adjust the cinch so that it hangs straight down alongside the saddle, without exerting any pressure or strain on the saddle’s structure.
  3. Use a cinch sleeve or cover: Consider using a cinch sleeve or cover to protect the saddle from direct contact with the cinch hardware. This can help prevent scratches or dents that may occur if the cinch accidentally rubs against the saddle.

While it’s generally recommended to remove the cinch for storage, these precautions can help minimise the potential risks associated with leaving it in place.

However, removing the cinch remains the best practice for ensuring the longevity and condition of your saddle.

You may also like...